Every Nebraska football fan knows that Memorial Stadium is the state's third-largest “city'' during Cornhusker home games when more than 81,000 fans show up on autumn Saturdays.
But few Nebraskans probably know that tiny Ponca, population 961, becomes the state's fifth-largest city one weekend each fall when more than 40,000 visitors funnel through town for the Missouri River Outdoor Expo at Ponca State Park.
The free event, the largest outdoor expo in the Midwest, returns to the park today and Sunday.
This weekend's expo — now in its eighth year — is designed to introduce or rekindle a family's interest in natural resources and outdoor recreation with more than 80 hands-on wildlife and outdoor sport demonstrations and exhibits, said Jeff Fields, superintendent of Ponca State Park.
Attractions include a “Shooter's Village” featuring all-weather ranges for pellet gun, archery, muzzleloader, .22-caliber rifle, shotgun and slingshot. New this year will be ranges for throwing tomahawks and an atl-atl, a prehistoric spearlike weapon.
Participants also can experience kayaking, rock climbing, camping, fishing and bow-fishing, Missouri River boat rides, Dutch oven cooking, wild game processing and camping skills.
The Taste of the Wild Cook-Off will feature regional chefs preparing wild game cuisine for Saturday visitors to sample and cast a vote for their favorite chef.
Matt Stutzman, an armless archer and a 2012 Paralympic silver medalist from Fairfield, Iowa, returns to the expo. At last year's event, Stutzman broke the world record for longest accurate archery shot — 230 yards — using his feet.
Other events include Benelli's Ultimate Shooter Tim Bradley, trick archer Frank Addington Jr., Dock Dogs Canine Aquatics Competition, Timberworks Lumberjacks, K-9 Friz-B-Crew and a John Deere Gator Course.
Last year's expo drew more than 42,000 visitors despite the closing of the park's riverfront area because of flooding. The riverfront site returns this year with an 1800s historical encampment, Missouri River boat tours and live bluegrass music by the Toasted Ponies.
Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Activities are free, but a valid park entry permit ($5 for day pass or $25 for annual pass) is required.
For the record, the only actual Nebraska cities larger than Ponca this weekend will be Omaha, Lincoln, Bellevue and Grand Island.
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